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Saturday, October 29, 2011

roasted carrot dip with sunflower seeds and cumin


The Carrot Challenge

On the last day of September, I got a message from my friend Amy Pettit at the Alaska Division of Agriculture, advertising their new Farm to School program. The Division wanted to raise awareness of their new program by offering lots of neat prizes for schools to participate. I forwarded the message to my first-grade daughter’s teacher at Rabbit Creek Elementary School, Mrs. Duprow, and told her that I would love to help her out with a project, if she wanted to plan something.

Mrs. Duprow jumped right on it, emailing the Division with her idea to do a taste-testing of our local Alaskan carrots vs. carrots from the Lower 48. She asked if a farmer could come and talk to her class, since they are learning about soils, and maybe they could include the whole school by bringing carrots to the cafeteria.  Before I knew it, the project had grown to a carrot taste-testing for the whole school!

On National Food Day (October 24), Ben VanderWeele delivered a huge bale of his farm’s Alaskan carrots to the school. Here’s a great YouTube video about how the carrots were harvested!

Johanna Herron from the Farm to School program came from Fairbanks with a method for counting votes, along with prizes for the students; Diane Peck came from the Alaska Obesity Prevention and Control Program with the rival carrots (the ones grown Outside) and little plastic shot glasses to hold the carrot samples; Alaskan food promoter Chef Clayton Jones came with a big hotel pan of delicious caramelized carrots for Mrs. Duprow’s class to eat while he talked about using local food in his restaurants; and I came as general dogsbody: carrot peeler, provider of kitchen equipment, and guide to show people where the cafeteria was.

What a fun event! It was a blind taste test, with orange cups for the Alaskan carrots, and clear cups for the Lower 48 carrots. Reporters showed up from the newspaper and television news, so luckily, the kids really COULD taste the difference between the Alaskan carrots and the Lower 48 carrots. The Alaskan carrots won by more than a two-to-one margin! Our carrots really ARE sweeter and juicier!

Click on the links for the Anchorage Daily News photo gallery and the KTUU Channel 2 News piece on the project. Thanks, Eric Hill and Rhonda McBride, for such great coverage of the event! The funny thing was, of all the people who put this project together, my picture ended up on the front page of the newspaper—and I hadn’t done much of anything! I want to take this opportunity to thank the folks who really DID make it happen: Christine Duprow, Johanna Herron, Diane Peck, Amy Pettit, Ben VanderWeele, Clayton Jones, and the staff at Rabbit Creek.

Clayton, Johanna, Diane and I peeled a LOT of carrots—and at the end of the day, there were about eleven pounds of extra peeled Alaskan carrots. I brought them home, knowing just what I would make! You might already have tried my carrot dip with sunflower seeds—I put that recipe on the blog in August 2009. But since then, I have come up with an even more delicious way to make it. Instead of just boiling the sliced carrots, then pureeing them with the rest of the ingredients, I roast the peeled carrots, halved lengthwise, with a little olive oil and salt. When they are roasted, the carrots make an incredibly rich and delicious puree, and the dip is creamy and fantastic with just the little bit of oil the carrots were roasted in. If you’ve tried it and liked it the other way, try it this way. And if you haven’t yet tried it, buy yourself a couple of big bags of ALASKAN carrots and go for it!


carrot dip with sunflower seeds & cumin

This recipe is loosely based on one in Veganomicon.  It’s fantastic spread on whole grain toast, or crackers—but I like it best scooped up with celery sticks.
I’ve given you a recipe for a large amount, for these reasons:
1) Even though it looks like a lot, 4 pounds of carrots will roast down to half that weight,
2) Keep some in the refrigerator to eat within the week, and freeze the rest in small containers (carefully labeled) for later. It makes a wonderful appetizer, and if someone shows up at the last minute, you can just pop it in the microwave to defrost it, and you’re good to go.
3) If you just want to make a regular batch, you can halve the recipe.

4 pounds carrots, peeled if the skins are bitter
2 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup sunflower seeds, roasted or raw (if you have salted roasted seeds, just use less salt and adjust to taste)
4 small cloves garlic
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt
2 to 4 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice

1. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
2. Cut the stem ends off the carrots and slice each one lengthwise into two long pieces. In a large bowl, toss the carrot halves with 2 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil and about a teaspoon of salt.
3. Spray a couple of rimmed cookie sheets with Pam (or grease with olive oil).
4. Lay the carrot halves out on the cookie sheets. If you have time to put the cut sides down on the cookie sheet, you’ll get more caramelization, and better flavor, but if you are pressed for time, just spread them out in more or less a single layer and put the cookie sheets in the oven. Roast them in the oven until they are tender when stabbed with a fork, and getting lovely and golden brown around the edges. Check them after 30 minutes, scoop them around on the tray to get other edges exposed to the pan, and check them every 10 minutes or so after that.  They might take up to 50 minutes to cook all the way and get roasty and toasty. Take them out of the oven and set aside to cool a bit.
5. If you have raw sunflower seeds, turn your oven down to 350 degrees. Toast the sunflower seeds on a clean cookie sheet in the oven for about 10 -12 minutes, until golden-brown and fragrant. Check on them and give them a stir if they are getting too brown in spots. (If you have toasted sunflower seeds, just use them as is.)
6. Peel the garlic and toss it in the food processor to mince. Then add the sunflower seeds and process into fine crumbs. Then add the cumin, salt, some of the lemon juice, and as many carrots as you can fit, and blend until smooth, scraping down the sides of the food processor as you go. If you couldn’t fit all the carrots in, transfer the first batch to a big bowl and puree the rest of the carrots with some more lemon juice. Scrape the remaining carrot puree into the bowl, and mix thoroughly with the sunflower seed/garlic puree.
7.    Taste for salt and adjust the lemon. Transfer to a covered container and refrigerate until ready to use. This dip tastes wonderful right away, but even better after it’s had an overnight in the refrigerator. I like to serve it at room temperature, so give it a little chance to warm up before serving if you can—or pop it in the microwave for 30 seconds or so and stir it up before putting it on the table.
8.  Serve with crackers, celery sticks, or on toast. If you have even more carrots on hand and want to use some roasted carrot slices as garnish, you can—but it’s not necessary!

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